Special Report

The Richest Americans of All Time

Source: Kimberly White / Getty Images

15. Larry Ellison (1944-present)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $98.4 billion

Larry Ellison founded software company Oracle in 1977. The company got its big break in 1981, when IBM opted to use Oracle’s database management system. Though he stepped down as Oracle’s CEO in 2014, Ellison still owns over a third of the company’s stock. He also sits on the board of Tesla.

Like many other living billionaires on this list, Ellison’s net worth has grown significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic — growing from $65 billion in October of 2019 to nearly $100 billion as of April 2021.

Source: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

14. Warren Buffett (1930-present)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $99.8 billion

Known as the “Oracle of Omaha,” Warren Buffett is a modern-day investing legend. He created his company, Buffett Partnership, in 1956 and quickly became a millionaire. He then purchased a textile company called Berkshire Hathaway but ended its textile division and began buying into varied companies like Geico and Exxon — either buying them fully or investing in the businesses. Berkshire Hathaway shares are now among the most coveted stocks on the market.

Buffett is also known for his generous donations to charity. He has given away more than $28 billion and pledged to give all of his fortune to philanthropic causes and helped to convince other wealthy people to do the same..

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

13. Alexander Turney Stewart (1803-1876)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $107.8 billion

Alexander Turney Stewart is one of just 13 Americans who have amassed a fortune worth over $100 billion in 2021 dollars. He did so by slowly transforming his $3,000 inheritance into one of the largest retail empires in U.S. history.

Born in Ireland, Stewart traveled to America to sell dry goods. He became one of the first retailers to offer standard prices instead of haggling with customers. Stewart’s company became so large, it won a contract to supply uniforms for Union soldiers during the Civil War.

Source: Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery via Wikimedia Commons

12. Stephen Van Rensselaer (1764-1839)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $108.9 billion

Stephen Van Rensselaer inherited virtually all of his fortune, worth nearly $109 billion in 2021 dollars. Born in 1764, he was the final member of his bloodline to get a large land grant in the new Dutch colonial area of the New World, in present day New York state. At one point, Van Rensselaer owned over a million acres of land in America and may have had as many as 100,000 tenants renting land from him.

Apart from owning land, Van Rensselaer was involved in politics, serving as an assemblyman, senator, and lieutenant governor for New York, as well as a representative in Congress. Van Rensselaer was well liked, often forgiving missed rent payments. After his death, however, many tenants refused to pay rent to his heirs, sparking what came to be known as the “Antirent Wars.”

Source: library_of_congress / Flickr

11. Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $108.9 billion

At a time when considerable portions of America’s new transportation infrastructure were being built, Andrew Carnegie’s company supplied the needed steel. Carnegie Steel Corporation used technologically advanced methods to make prodigious amounts of steel and owned the requisite raw materials to make production cheaper.

Unlike many of the richest men of his era, Carnegie was committed to philanthropy. He once wrote that a “man who dies rich dies disgraced,” and he donated virtually all of his money to various organizations and libraries.